Is the CIA making America safer?

Kidnapping. Torture. Secret prisons. Overthrowing other countries’ governments. Assassination. Backing dictators, backing criminals, terrorists, backing and/or training death squads. These are all crimes. We have this huge, powerful agency going everywhere in the world and committing crimes in the name of America, and everybody in the world knows it. They admit it, even.

I’m not saying that maybe they haven’t foiled a plot or maybe even hundreds of plots, but to me it seems maybe they are creating more enemies than anybody can stop, and cutting off sources of information from people who are not criminals or greedy opportunists out to sell what might be bogus info. If I came across anything suspicious, I’d have a really tough time informing the authorities if I thought maybe I was condemning someone to being disappeared and tortured, and I doubt I’m the only one who feels that way.

There will be some that come along and say that their successes are secret while their failures are trumpted all over the place. Having lived overseas in a number of different situations, I will say that I am not impressed with the CIA. I don’t know how many times I have sat with friends watching “spooks” try to wheel and deal and just be so totally out of it that it was embarrassing. Yes, I know, that could have been their plan all along, to seem inept thus letting the mythical “bad guys” become over confident.

One of the classics for me was when I was in Iran about a year before the revolution which kicked the shah out and I was hanging out with some locals who all agreed they gave the Shah between six months and a year. I heard this all over the place among the less well-heeled classes. I mentioned what I heard to a friend at the embassy and he told me that CIA assured him that my Iranian acquaintences did not know what they were talking about. Oh, well.

I consider myself someone who doesn’t do knee jerk and uninformed government criticism. I am also a skeptic and rationalist in the spirit of this board.

You are correct that the CIA is one bizarre organization and it is nothing new. It has been that way since many of our grandparents were children. They have indeed done some zany things and those things were sustained rather than one-time stunts. I went to a university with a top-ranked Latin American Studies department. One of our classes on the history of Latin America spent significant amounts of time explaining how the CIA got tangled up with the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita Banana) and spent decades in the middle-ish part of the 20th century trying to control various Latin American country governments. They had some success and many failures.

The whole thing seems too bizarre and surreal to be true and people that have never heard about it, would rightly be skeptical. However, that same long period of Latin American activity came to a head with the Iran-Contra scandal. Most people didn’t understand it in the 80’s and even fewer remember the details now but it was like an over the top conspiracy novel set to the tone of Keystone Cops. The CIA was trying to sell arms in one place and secretly fight communism in Latin America with rogue bands of soldiers and very illegally funnelled money.

There were the pathetic Fidel Castro assassination plots and God knows what else. I freely admit that I don’t know why they exist anymore and it sometimes sounds like even the President and certainly not Congress know what they are up to all the time.

It isn’t like we don’t have other intelligence agencies. The NSA has gained huge prominence as the information age has taken form. The other intelligence agencies seem to keep their noses somewhat clean as well even if it is just a facade. The CIA is one thing I don’t like about the U.S. It seems like it took on a life of its own a very long time ago and no one in official power controls it. George Bush Sr. might have been the last one that could control it as president because he was a former CIA Director. I don’t know what a doe-eyed president and a Congress kept in the dark could do to keep them from doing a bunch of wacky stuff again.

The first thing that made me lose complete respect for the CIA was an article I read as a senior in high school. I had grown up my whole life taught that there was one gigantic boogyman in the world. It was was communism and the Soviet Union in general. We were going to full nuclear war the the USSR. It was just a matter of time. Then, Gorbachev came and things seemed to grow a little warmer although not completely different than they were.

One day, the Soviet Union seemingly just went poof just like that. The whole thing was gone in spirit almost right away. The article I am referring to (there were probably many) said that the CIA was caught just as off-guard as anyone hearing the press briefings. I have no reason to doubt that because they certainly couldn’t bring about an official government shift in a country that big,

How the fuck did that happen? There were all kinds of leaked schemes and even movies that showed them going to great lengths to expertly grab as much Soviet data as possible through any means necessary. They couldn’t even find out that gigantic Mother Russia had plans to dissolve itself.

It wasn’t really in their interest to play up that kind of intel though was it? Never mind the personal fiefdoms involved, would it have helped the West if the economic endgame of the Soviet Union had been compromised by honest public disclosure of the fragilty of that regime? As it turned out (so far) a great empire split into smithereens without the bloodshed that might have been expected. Pity about Chechnya, but us Westerners got off lightly. Mission accomplished?

IIRC, the CIA funded Osama Bin Laden and his cronies during the Cold War in their fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Ditto Saddam Husein.

Yeah, that really made us safer.

And let’s not forget the shit in Latin America…

The Great Game, redux.

If they prevented World War 3 even once, would that help balance the scales?

If they just got their jollies, was it worth it for people like Bush, Chaney, et al ---- probably.

None of us has any idea what the CIA does on a daily basis. We don’t know most of the good they’ve done. We don’t know most of the bad. The information we do get is filtered through our own ideological prisms and those of the people we got the information from in the first place.

What the CIA has done many times over the years is act covertly in the best short and long term interest of the United States as seen at the time by the people in power. Were all of the actions a good idea in retrospect? No. But many of them were. The Soviet Union wasn’t playing nice. We couldn’t afford to either.

It’s naive and simplistic to paint the CIA as full of cartoon villians because you don’t know what the people there do or because you find their existence ideologically offensive.

That’s a really great, articulate post.

I remember seeing the dialog from a movie, (Three Days of the Condor, I think) that I have seen on some intelligence briefs. The gist of it is this:
CIA Guy: “What do you think the American people are going to want us to do in order to provide, food, oil etc. to them.”

The Reporter(?): “Ask them?”

CIA Guys: "No, don’t ask them now. Ask them when, for the first time in their lives, they are cold and hungry. They won’t want to discuss it then. They’ll just want it.
I think there is a lot of truth to that dialog. America, and to a large degree the West, is sitting back, enjoying the good life, and complaining about big, bad and evil their governments are. But at the same time, they want the good lives for them (and their children) that these government actions are providing. Can’t have it both ways.

I’m not a great debater, so I’m going to use some lifted dialog from ‘Judgment at Nuremberg’ that I find pertinent to the argument. You may, of course, disagree.
*There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” — of “survival.” A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient — to look the other way.

Well, the answer to that is “survival as what?” A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult!

Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.*

Go ahead and call me naive for wanting my country to stand for that. I hope I die naive. If I wind up enslaved, starved and killed, I still hope to believe that is what America was meant to stand for, what all governments should aspire to, and what all humans should reach for, with all their hearts.

Well, people sometimes seem to forget that these CIA misadventures weren’t hare-brained schemes cooked up in secret. Rather they were approved from the top. By the president at the time. The CIA didn’t try to assassinate Castro on a lark, they did it because Kennedy ordered it. And so forth.

Now, the existance of a giant shadowy organization creates a certain moral hazard for the president. If you’ve got guys ready and able to go off and assassinate Castro for you, it’s a lot easier to give that order. And the CIA has an institutional bias to promote the interests of the CIA, which means expanding the budget and expanding their capabilities and slanting intelligence to make the CIA look important.

But it’s still the responsibility of the executive to control the CIA, and to the extent that the CIA is out of control we can directly blame the presidents who allowed it to happen. Of course, the voters are the ones we can blame for bad choices in presidents.

OK, You’re naive.

Do you mean this? You really want to die naïve, and you don’t care if you wind up enslaved, starved, and killed? We’ll, I’d rather live informed, and free. And I’d like my children to live the same way. Has this administration gone too far? Yes. And I hope and believe that the next one, of either party will tone it down quite a bit. But it’s a big bad world out there, and we have to find that line between the lily white and the evil empire. But either way, it’s a hardball world out there.

The CIA has started WARS! It has involved us in corrupt governments, and many highly illegal schemes. Have they EVER explained what htey were doing with Barry seals, in the importation of cocaine? The problem i have with them: they operate under another set of laws, and in secret. So we don’t know if they were involved in plots to kill President Kennedy or not-the near-insanity of people like James Angleton is enought to scare me, anyway.

Of course I care. But there are things I care about more than worrying about the risk of this happening, and one of the things I care about more is living what I deem a worthwhile life. While I don’t believe in gods or an afterlife, or karma, or souls, I do believe in human beings having more purpose than merely to survive. And I believe in evil. Evil, defined by me, is deliberately causing harm and suffering to others.

I look at it like this: there are a lot of people in the world that I consider potentially dangerous to me. People who are fanatics. People who would possibly do me harm for my beliefs, my sex, my skin color, or whatever, but I don’t believe in pre-emptively trying to do them harm before they can hurt me. I would never take one of their family hostage. I would never kidnap one of their friends and keep him secretly locked up while I tried to torture information about what the plots against me might be. I would not give weapons and money to a fanatic’s enemies with the intention that they harm him for me. I would not try to drive him out of my town or neighborhood by doing damage to his property, or try to put him out of work by pressuring other people not to buy from him or sell to him. I would not try to assassinate him.

These actions are illegal, immoral and wrong when done by individuals, don’t you agree? I have to believe they are also illegal, immoral and wrong when done by a government. Because if I believed that there were times that the government was justified in doing these things, I would believe that there were times that I could be justified in doing these things. I can only believe as I believe, as far as right and wrong go. I grant others the rights and protections of law that I want for myself, even if I despise them and everything they stand for. Even if they terrify me. Not to do so would make me a hypocrite, and I loathe hypocrisy.

Maybe you would argue that most of our government’s actions are not illegal, and that they do a lot of good, and that even when they do evil, it is with the best of intentions, and only in a good cause. Again, I feel I must hold my country to the standards that I set for individuals, and for myself. If I commit evil in a good cause, I’ll still be held responsible, won’t I? How about if I shoot an abortion doctor? A pedophile? What if I go on a rapist-castrating spree? I might be a very compassionate person in other regards. Maybe I’ve given thousands to charity, volunteered with disabled children and the elderly, and given a home to dozens of homeless cats. How would you judge me?

I don’t want my so-called representative government to do things that I would not do, and that you would(I hope) never condone me doing, in my name. I don’t want them to claim to do them for my sake.

There’s little evidence to support the Osama bin Laden claim. The CIA funded mujahideen in general via the Pakistanis. While it’s impossible to say where all the money we funneled to Pakistan went, it’s almost certainly unlikely that we “funded bin Laden.” Is it possible some of our money ended up in his hands? Sure. But he was by and large funded through the Saudi Arabians and a financial network he had set up to fund his operations. Only many of the mujahideen groups Osama’s was very well funded by the rest of the Muslim world. Anyway, it was no secret we were supporting the Afghanis, they were fighting off a repressive invader in the Soviet Union, would have really been moral not to have supported them? In the 1970s Osama bin Laden wasn’t even a blip on the radar, he was just a well connected guy who had done some Afghani freedom fighting and had organized a well-funded mujahideen group.

And the United States (as well as most other major Western European powers) funded Saddam Hussein openly throughout the Iran-Iraq War, I’m not sure why the CIA would be involved when the U.S. was publicly funding Iraq.

What is this saying? What does it have to do with the debate at hand?

This is a very poor movie quote and one that makes little sense in the context of this thread. And less sense in the context of the Nuremberg trials.

No you don’t recall correctly, this is one of those pop-culture politics facts which drives me nuts. The CIA did not fund OBL, they funded the Afghan Muhajadeen which was given weapons through the ISI Pakistani Intelligence Services, OBL had enough money and support from the Arab states to fight his own war.

Wait… What?